By Alex Butler
On December 9, 2021, a truck full of more than 150 migrants crashed near the town of Chiapas, Mexico, per BBC. The truck was reportedly speeding when it flipped over after rounding a sharp bend and hitting a pedestrian bridge on the road leading to the state capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Chiapas, a southern state of Mexico that neighbors Guatemala, is a major transit point for undocumented migrants heading north to the United States. At least 55 of the migrants on the truck died, and more than 100 were injured from the crash.
These numbers make this the deadliest documented incident for migrants in Mexico since at least 2014. The migrants were made up of men, women, and children. Of the 100 or so who were injured, CNN reports that 19 are minors.
Survivors of the crash recall how the migrants' location inside the truck determined who lived and who died. AP News states that those who were crammed against the walls of the freight container were more likely to have died, while those in the middle survived by being cushioned by other immigrants when the container flipped. Those who survived had to extract themselves from the pile of the dead and injured before attempting to pull the wounded out of the wreckage.
The most severely injured were then carried to plastic sheets on the road, where ambulances and cars then transported them to the hospital. The driver of the truck was reportedly injured yet fled the scene. The BCC reports that mere hours after the crash, the site had been cleared of almost all evidence that anything deadly had occurred. No police officers, emergency services, or forensic investigators have remained at the scene. The only recognition comes from the local residents, who have created a small shrine composed of flowers, candles, crosses, or water for the departed.
AP News states that it is common practice that migrants involved in severe accidents are allowed to stay in Mexico, at least temporarily, as they are considered both witnesses and victims of a crime. In this case, Mexico's National Immigration Institute will be offering humanitarian visas to the survivors.
These visas will allow them to transit and stay in Mexico for the time being. The Mexican government will also help identify the dead and cover funeral costs or repatriation of the remains.
According to CNN, a majority of the victims of the crash were from Guatemala. The rest came from Honduras, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, or Mexico. Migration is common in many Central American countries where violence, corruption, food insecurity, and a lack of job security are prevalent. According to the United Nations, around 651 have died in 2021 trying to cross Mexico to get into the United States. This is more than any year since 2014 when data began to be gathered regarding these crossings.
This data may, in reality, be worse as many deaths are challenging to document accurately. Many of these migrants have paid thousands of dollars for the journey. These payments go towards smugglers, who illegally transport them in crowded and dangerous trucks across the border. The truck involved in the fatal Mexican crash was one of which the head of Mexico's national guard claims to have somehow managed to get around the roadside checkpoints throughout Mexico, which are run by the National guard and immigration authorities to catch smugglers.
CNN reports that the US border patrol has arrested a record number of people for unlawful border crossings over the past year. This wave of migration is happening amid the controversy surrounding the Biden administration's reinstating of a Trump-era border policy that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in the United States.
This policy has forced thousands of migrants, including particularly vulnerable groups such as women and children, to stay in dangerous Mexican border towns. Under the Trump administration, this "Remain in Mexico" policy caused thousands of migrants to live in makeshift camps along the border, where living conditions were extremely poor. The Mexican government allowed the reinstatement of the policy yet has been unable to stop the flow of migrants on their way to the US.
It is clear that regardless of US policy towards migrants, they will continue to come in hopes of a better life up north. Until the Biden administration and the López Obrador administration develop a more comprehensive and humanitarian plan for migrants, the chances of more migration related accidents like this one will only increase, and migrants will continue to suffer.